Legal and Policy Issues
Edited by Christoph Beat Graber, Karolina Kuprecht and Jessica Christine Lai
Chapter 15: International trade in indigenous cultural heritage: an Australian perspective
Protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander traditional cultural expressions (TCEs) and traditional knowledge (TK) is a very significant specialisation in Australia. There are forests of reports and academic literature commenting on the nature of the problems, analysing progress to date, feeding the international appetite for the subject and, most commonly, expressing a heartfelt aspiration to do better. This chapter provides an overview of these issues, whilst trying to bring to life the importance of appreciating law and rights in terms of the domestic political context. It is not altogether clear whether or not Australia is a post-colonial state. Government oversight and governance of Indigenous peoples remains, regardless of Indigenous withdrawal, reservations on terms of engagement and attempts at forms of self-determination. The potential for improving Indigenous rights in Australia differs depending upon the time, the players and the categories of law deployed. It is hard to pinpoint success or progress such that one would seek to promote such solutions internationally. However, what has developed is a home-grown appreciation of the complexity of the issues, the likely failure of imposing solutions from above and the benefits of supporting local Indigenous agency in wrestling greater control over the trade in indigenous cultural heritage.
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